A joint Press Release from, Irish Rare Birds Committee, Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Association Records Committee and the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee

The occurrence of what was undoubtedly the same individual pale morph Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus crossing national boundaries required close co-operation between these three committees, as is recommended under the guidelines of the Association of European Rarities Committees (AERC), to ensure that all such records are handled consistently. All three committees have independently reached the same conclusion - that Booted Eagle should be added to Category D of their respective national lists (species that would otherwise appear in Category A except that there is reasonable doubt that they have ever occurred in a natural state).

The assessment process has been prolonged for a number of reasons:

  1. There had to be an attempt to reconcile the nearly 30 reported sightings, some for several days or even weeks in one locality, over a period of 15 months, in Ireland, England and Scotland (see table 1, prepared by the IRBC, which shows the chronology of sightings).
  2. There was a need to determine just how many birds were involved, and in particular, to isolate the observations which related to the individual with the distinctive feather damage on both wings.
  3. Enquiries had to be made as to the captive status of Booted Eagle in Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe.
  4. There was the inherent risk of delay in the need for circulation of details of the records to the members of the three committees, working together towards an agreed conclusion.

The first three factors were time-consuming. The fourth point was in the event not a problem, and the full and speedy co-operation between the three committee secretaries and members was a fine example of joint working, with each committee contributing information that was not available to the others.
Most of the records were well documented and many were accompanied by photographs, leaving no doubt about the identification. The photographs confirmed that many of the records related to the same individual, from the characteristic damage to wing and tail feathers. All reports during the period were of pale morph birds and the bird photographed in Ireland could be aged as a juvenile.

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Category A Decision Reasons

There are five reasons why none of the records is acceptable as the first Irish or British record eligible for Category A:

  1. The state of the plumage described in most of the records, with damage to wing and tail feathers, raised questions about the origin of the bird(s). Expert opinion was sought from Dick Forsman who stated that the plumage was abnormally abraded, particularly for a bird in its first spring, when such birds are usually in good condition.
  2. The arrival date in Ireland, 5 March, the first of the multiple records, was a month earlier than any other extralimital European record. In addition, the first few spring migrants at Gibraltar appear there only in early March with the main arrival being much later.
  3. Its arrival in Ireland would have involved a long sea crossing and this species typically undertakes long detours during migration to avoid making long sea crossings.
  4. The individual bird involved in the majority of records (identified through feather damage) stayed in Ireland and Britain for more than one year, which contrasts with the short stays of most other vagrant birds of prey. In addition, the vast majority of European Booted Eagles spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.
  5. The species is rare, but not unknown, in captivity, although there is no official register of captive birds in Britain. Information received from the RSPB Investigations Department included details of a pale morph Booted Eagle (which they were previously unaware of) in an aviary in Wales in the course of their work, and reports were received of captive birds in a collection in Essex. There was also a description received of a possible dark morph bird with jesses in Kent.

In the absence of photographic evidence, the three Kent records and the single Orkney record could not be proved to be different birds from the long-staying feather-damaged bird. However, there have been no other reports of Booted Eagle in Ireland and Britain before or since, and the timing of sightings accord with a single individual. Their categorisation was influenced by the factors which led to the decision by all three committees to place the species in Category D.

booted eagle
Photographs: Dr. Don Hodgers.

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Reports of Booted Eagle in Ireland and Britain during 1999 and 2000. Prepared by the IRBC.

Date Location County
5th to 6th March 1999 Rogerstown Estuary Dublin
14th March 1999 Dungarvan Waterford
21st March 1999 Broadway Wexford
5th April 1999 Killinick Wexford
9th April 1999 Bangor Down
16th to 18th April 1999 Our Lady's Island Wexford
11th to 17th June 1999 Rogerstown Estuary Dublin
Early July 1999 Lambay Island Dublin
22nd to 24th August 1999 Rathlin Island Antrim
28th September 1999 St. Margaret's Bay Kent, England
25th October 1999 Drift Reservoir Cornwall, England
26th October 1999 Porthgwarra Cornwall, England
31st October 1999 Drift Reservoir Cornwall, England
1st to 12th November 1999 Drift Reservoir - Marazion area Cornwall, England
21st to 28th November 1999 Marazion - Plain an Gwarry area Cornwall, England
2nd to 9th February 2000 Meare - Westley Heath Somerset, England
11th to 15th February 2000 Chew Valley Lake Somerset, England
19th February 2000 Weston-super-Mare Somerset, England
25th February 2000 Chedder Gorge Somerset, England
27th February 2000 Bristol Somerset, England
28th February 2000 'North Devon' Devon, England
1st to 5th March 2000 'Somerset' Somerset, England
12th March 2000 Prawle Point Devon, England
13th March 2000 South Brent Devon, England
7th April 2000 Dungeness Kent, England
8th April 2000 Cliffe Pools Kent, England
8th April 2000 Flew across the Thames Estuary Essex, England
22nd June 2000 North Ronaldsay Orkney, Scotland

Further Information

For further information you may contact the following:

IRBC contact details are displayed at the bottom on this page.

NIBARC contact details are available here.

British Ornithologists' Union
Address: PO Box 417, Peterborough PE7 3FX, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)1 733 844 820
Email: bou@bou.org.uk.
Website: www.bou.org.uk

Supplementary Information

The IRBC have added Booted Eagle to Category D1 of the Irish list - unlike the BOURC, we have separate sub-categories in Category D.

After the initial circulation, the IRBC received documentation of what is believed to have been an even earlier sighting of the same bird in Wexford on 7th February 1999. If accepted, the case for the bird having been an early spring migrant would be further weakened.


The IRBC is very grateful to Dick Forsman for the helpful information that he provided on Booted Eagle during the course of our review.

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